Max came today. He’s three; so much to do.
The garden is crawling with autumn. Inside I am vacuuming it up. Outside, Max is spreading it out. There are millipedes under the woodpile. There are slaters. Max collects them up and introduces them to the sandpit. Not for long. Sugared with sand, they all die. Max lies on the bricks. He will also die. This means lying silently for a long time and saying nothing. Then he collects some birdseed. He is a crow. He is a road worker. He is ‘her’.
He spades elm leaves, flakes of gold, into the air. He is hungry.
He says, ‘No’.
He fills a tiny bucket with leaves to help me. It takes half a day. He releases a thousand caterpillars into the front garden. He is covered in sawdust. He says he may turn into a parrot, and I say, ‘Good work”, and he says, ‘Where are the potatoes?, and I say, ‘Gone’, and he says, ‘That’s so funny’.
He drives a lego car around, delivering cactus plants to the places they actually want to be. He exaggerates his shoulders to show strength. He puts a snail into a safer place.
I hang the washing, and Max helps, securing one small face washer with twenty five pegs. It takes twenty satisfying minutes. He is Bob the Builder, and he needs petrol.
He checks a spider’s web.
The day ploughs on; there is only finding and shouting and joy. There is no time for anything else.
Loren and Adam’s kids, with their astonishing names and unconfined attitudes! They love to read. Who knows what place they’ll end up in – Tibet, or Strathalbyn, doesn’t matter, it’s where your face is that counts, up keeping watch over the universe or contemplating the feet of the blue tongue lizard. They love to read. They rise and rise, an aching existence of looking a little bit further and seeing around corners, and never coming to the end of things. Always good when they visit. Always good.
Noah is up on the big bed. When he arrived up on this new exhilarating surface that dips and falls and floats mountains all about him, his muscles suddenly grew eyes. The first dive plunged him a possible ten miles and the cushioned landing told him that he might now fly. So he did.
Gravity stepped kindly to one side and allowed him to drop and leap, spin and swim in a flightless, effortless baby way for which had had no words except “bang”. He tackled pillows and cushions head on, fell backwards, lunged up from his back to his feet and forward in a delicate, balanced arc, exploring the physics of his own weight, correctly predicting the next fall and timing it accurately with a shout: bang.
There is a collision of head and elbow and Noah rises with one hand held out, acknowledging the grandparent injury and then already wading forward into the next operation, arms raised, his bones warm with cooperation and his fingertips feeling the edges of the air and informing his shoulders of the next plan.
But then, eventually, it is time to get down. He surrenders his feet to the old rules of hard floors once again, walking stoutly, rolling slightly because he is not yet two, lifting his feet at shadows, printing the ground with care and precision because he is not yet two and staring down at his new knees and his new feet that are no longer buoyant and that are not yet two.
Aunty Elsa’s room is a haven of possibilities, treasure and unexpected items that the babies are not allowed to have. The door will not shut because there are three thousand pairs of shoes stored behind it and so the boys always have a guaranteed entry to the forbidden. In this room there are many things but best of all are the snow globes, heavy and cold and breakable. Even a gentle movement will dislodge the magic winter inside each one. They must be magic, and the glass is always worth tasting to find out if such divinity is also edible. But there is more. There are cards and pencils and books and phone chargers, sometimes even a phone itself and that cool slab of glass against an infant ear means important involvement in family concerns. Once there was a bag of lollies, a bag of bliss, and Aunty Elsa did not get there in time to rescue those. Aunty Elsa is 18, she is a Bohemian Rhapsody, kind and colourful, unconventional and unafraid. The cousins drink in the rich world of their Aunt, the books and the ideas and the argument and chaos and year 12 and they eat pita bread with hummus and hear about the importance of regarding the planet and each other with care and they too become richer and enriched and richer…
Max was born into too many books. For all his small life there have been a thousand of them on every side, front, and back; each wall is made of a thousand oblongs.
He climbs over, clambers over, steps over, sits on a thousand seats, he regards dust covers through his knees, he is not impressed by author except the highest one on a stack that can be toppled. A book is valuable if he can reach it and he will examine one cover after another and then, finished, will cast each volume decisively aside. Sometimes he will examine pages, turning neatly a hundred at a time, before hurling that book aside too. Then he will climb another pile, perhaps aiming for The Lord of the Rings balanced on the highest heap but actually making for a fly, caught on the windowsill and drowning loudly in the summer sunlight.
But the piles are precarious, not stacked skilfully and there is a slithering of books, limbs and fury. There is Robert Louis Stevenson now under his knees and Memoirs of Hadrian annoying his elbow and Lonesome Doves will no longer hold his toes from slipping. And down he goes, his own private landslide, brief and astonishing, that deposits him neatly on his back and next to him, scattered, a toy motorbike and the urgent need to climb again.
All along the side trellis, along the bricks, under the Chinese elm, toward the orchard there are grapes, dark, hot and suspended in a purple and silly way right in front of Max as he forages through the garden most days.
Now he returns to that exact place, balances in the soft dirt and picks and eats purple until he is found and removed.
He uses a superior grip, thumb and forefinger, not the whole bunch at once but one small grape a time, leaving the rest intact. He is witness to the tough and springy operation of the grape vine, the peeling barks, the spoky birds, the grapy colours that deepen every day under summer’s gentle simmer; now they are ruby red and falling into purple, the bricks underneath are inked with the overburden.
He balances on knees, well back, and leans in and in, mouth open, the other hand spread out, holding the air, resolving the balance, delicate as a watchmaker, suspended in time, missing nothing. Sometimes he examines the purple bead first, breathes at it noisily before consuming, sitting back on heels, the other hand still stroking the air, no part of him absent from the feast.
The garden sighs, exhales, unknowing of its cargo, the hot and furious cat, the drooping orchard, a dripping hose, somewhere a hammer, somewhere a family and everywhere the summer.
Paths are good because they always go somewhere. And if you can’t see the end of it, you can leave that out and just enjoy the moment for the moment, but always holding like treasure, in the side of your eye, the end of the path. That never comes because it is a treasure in the side of your eye. Playing here like a child is child’s play.
Max is just learning to walk, and his feet urge him on and on over any ground he can get. He still needs a helping hand to grasp as he walks, large careful steps with the knees lifted as high as possible in case the shadows rise up for tripping. He is not interested in the beginnings of paths as there aren’t any. He has no interest in the end of paths as he is already there. Everything he can imagine so far has arrived.
Instead, like babies do, he helps himself to every inch of the available minute, the breathing light, the slanting heat, the lawn mower that is not allowed, his pumping legs that cover a mere metre over an eternity and now there are ants.
He toddles across warm bricks and cool decking, through sand and over gum leaves that break and cause him to pause, over wind washed bark, through cobwebs and dropping branches. When he comes to the pot of hydrangeas, he stops and taps the pot. The hydrangeas are drunk with heat, they lean over with their heads against the pot, asleep or unconscious, they do not stir just because a baby knocks on their house. He goals the trailer, the bins, the tool shed and each time is swept back to sensible. He angles for the lawn mower, a favourite magic. But he is guided on and around it, it is not safe. He frowns, rocks to and fro, looks down to examine something he thinks is in his hand, suddens upward to look aghast at cockatoo. Then he drops abruptly to his hands and knees, and moves fluently again in the old language, across bricks, faster than walking, he is breathing fast and making for the tap, remembering that it is the greatest living treasure after all and at the end of all paths.
There are two young children here in the caravan park, in the warm summer, on the hot grass and they have a metal detector.
They are purposeful, their backs are bent and their thin arms concentrate on the work. Every patch of patchy ground has potential…. gravel, sand, garden, asphalt, earth, kerb, grass, cement…all are tried and tried.
The detector beeps a small hoot every now and again and they stop and bob about to retrieve the treasure – a bottle top, a slip of metal, a casket of jewels. They scrape sand back reverently but there is usually nothing there. Then they push the sand back into place, gentle caretakers of this unnoticed ground.
But suddenly they have found something, and the detector makes a vast sound.
He says: it’s nothing.
She says: it’s something, look.
And they lean in, knees hopeful and noses together.
He says: it’s metal?
She says: it’s glass. It’s this. It’s this.
She picks it up, a small thing, holds it cupped and close, running eyes over the pleasing magic.
She says: it’s golden glass.
He says: it’s gold glass.
They take it to the tap and rinse the sand away from its golden value and the detector lies in the grass forgotten. The entire day, so deeply entered, is also forgotten.
The tap flashes in the sun, the stream of water flashes in the sun, their blond childhood heads blaze through the water drops, the warm, ticking scrub leaning kindly over them and the sea itself acknowledging the wisdom.
Photography by Yeshi Kangrang
Noah and Max are under the Christmas tree.
Max emptied the lower branches days ago and Noah gazes through the empty spokes with interest. He accepts an angel to chew. Both babies can now sit on a firm base with no toppling, they have crushed the nativity under their bottoms, they have pulled down the silver tinsel and it is their first Christmas. There is so much to do.
Wrapped gifts are, as yet, dull. Those smooth surfaces offer no angles or handholds, they contain nothing that can be seen and therefore nothing that they want.
An emerald green bauble that hangs from a branch, however, holds movement. And also light and shine that keeps changing. It has a promising surface that can be tasted. There is often an accompanying spoken warning which is predictable and comfortable.
The wooden Santa that contains another Santa inside it and yet another inside that is delightful. One piece can astonishingly go inside of another piece and come out again.
There is a bottle of good milk lying nearby which nobody wants.
It is possible to pull the loop away from every hanging element so that they can no longer hang at all. Max can jolt a decoration downwards with superb strength, it knocks him backwards and he must rebalance each time. Noah sits close by, supporting the work, a team.
It is hot, there are lists of things to do, there is still a week until Christmas, there is complaining and rushing and not enough carparks.
But Noah and Max are travelling Christmas from a stronger position. Willing to be grazed by new ideas, able to breath in colour, calling for contact and exchange, uninterested in efficiency.
Max is discarding each broken and lovely decoration to one side, he is sighting up the tree, reaching for higher profits, still out of reach. Noah is examining each shape consistently and carefully, tasting the edges, processing the contours, understanding the value.
And this takes all morning as it is delicate work.
Max’s Christmas decoration is three nappy pins joined together.
He thrusts it into the tree but the branches bend. Other decorations fall down. The tinsel is annoying, it annoys his eyelashes. More things fall. He does not blink and he does not mind, things falling are not his concern.
He kneels on top of the nativity, he does not notice that the whole nativity has toppled, the pieces stare upwards into his concentration.
The room is filled with concentration, Christmas has gone quiet. He has chosen a superb place for the nappy pins to hang, the lowest branch but the lowest branch, although looking solid will not support his clutching fervent hands or his loud breathing. He falls, the pins fall, an angel and three green baubles fall, then some purple tinsel falls with a sigh and he stares at the purple for a long time.
Max is not perturbed, the branch is still there, the pins are still there, the work can continue.
He thrusts the pins onto the lowest branch over and over and suddenly, they stay there. He sits back, regards them steadily. But he is unimpressed. He pulls them off and hurls them to the floor, they make a noise, faint, the faint noise of pins falling to the floor when they are joined together. He picks them up and shakes them, and again, and again. Now there is new work to do.
He turns his back to the Christmas tree.